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CMLP and Cyberlaw Clinic Urge Broad Reading of the Massachusetts Anti-SLAPP Statute

The Citizen Media Law Project, together with the Online News Association, Media Bloggers Association, New England Press Association, and Globe Newspaper Company, publisher of The Boston Globe and, this week urged a broad reading of Massachusetts' anti-SLAPP law in a friend-of-the-court filing. 

The amici curiae briefwas filed in the case of Dugas v. Robbins, Case No. BACV2008-491, pending in Massachusetts Superior Court in Barnstable.  The case concerns allegations of defamation against a blogger on Cape Cod.  The Court is considering the defendant's motion to dismiss the lawsuit under the Commonwealth's anti-SLAPP law, M.G.L. c. 231, § 59H.  The coalition of amici, led by the CMLP, argue that the defendant should be able to take advantage of the anti-SLAPP law even if he is deemed to be a member of the news media or if he receives compensation for his blog posts. 

Anti-SLAPP laws protect citizens engaged in "petitioning" activities by prohibiting "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation."  As the amicinote in their brief, "[t]he point of a SLAPP is to intimidate and silence the target through the threat of an expensive lawsuit."  A party faced with a SLAPP suit in Massachusettsmay file a motion to dismiss under Section 59H and, if successful, recover attorneys' fees associated with making the motion. 

Amici explain in their brief that a decision to deny the anti-SLAPP law's protections to members of the news media or bloggers would chill their important efforts to inform citizens about issues before the government.  The brief, which does not take a position on the ultimate merits of plaintiffs' claims or defendant's motion, notes the various ways in which both the news media and bloggers can have the kinds of interests that are meant to be protected by the anti-SLAPP law.  A hearing in the case is scheduled to take place in Barnstable, MAon Thursday, November 13, 2008.

CMLP and its fellow amici were represented on the brief by Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic, a for-credit clinical legal education program affiliated with the Berkman Center.  The brief 's primary author was Tom Sullivan, a third-year Harvard Law and Clinic student, who worked in close collaboration with CMLP Director David Ardia and Clinic staff.   This cooperative effort between the CMLP and the Clinic highlights two of the Berkman Center's core missions – advocacy and education in the online world.

Read more about the case and about the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute on the CMLP blog.

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